After getting married, life was great for Matthew and Ashley. They loved each other, and others well, and were active in their faith and community. But five months into their marriage things got difficult. There was no conflict between them, but troubles were happening to them.
Matthew’s father had passed away unexpectedly. Grief led Matthew’s brother—who had been clean of addiction for almost ten years—to relapse. When Matthew’s brother was on drugs again, he pulled out a knife and stabbed Matthew in the chest. Matthew thought he was going to die.
While on his way to the hospital, his brother who had attacked him was killed. In the following days while Matthew was recovering from his injuries, Ashley, who was pregnant, had a miscarriage. All of this happened in just four weeks.
Most of us have a cultural assumption: be a good person and good things will happen to you. Be a bad person and bad things will happen to you. But that is an incorrect assumption that does not match up with the world in which we live.
You probably have asked a similar question: “Why do bad things keep happening to me when I always try to do the right thing?” As a pastor one of the questions I hear most often from people is “Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?”
We know that God is compassionate and loving. We know that God is holy (Isaiah 6:3), just (Revelation 6:16), and merciful (Romans 3:23-24). Because of who God is he would not directly cause pain and suffering in our lives. Psalm 5:4 tells us, “For you are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with you.” So if God does not cause pain and suffering, why does it occur?
Using a few verses from the book of Malachi and other selections from Scripture, I’d like to share the reasons from Scripture that bad things happen as well as four practical actions we can take when bad things happen to us. In this process we will see God’s Word describing the commitment we must have to God among the complicated problems of life.
WHY DO BAD THINGS HAPPEN?
“Your words have been arrogant against me,” says the Lord. “Yet you say, ‘What have we spoken against You?’ You have said, ‘It is pointless to serve God; and what benefit is it for us that we have done what he required, and that we have walked in mourning before the Lord of armies? So now we call the arrogant blessed; not only are the doers of wickedness built up, but they also put God to the test and escape punishment.’” (Malachi 3:13-15, NASB)
We see Israel essentially saying in these verses, “Why do evil people prosper in the world?” We could ask, “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Or “Why do bad things happen to good people? And I believe there are four reasons.
Because of the Fall, bad things happen to people.
Things are not the way that they are supposed to be. They are supposed to be perfect and complete and in harmony. But when Adam and Eve ate fruit from the tree God told them not to (in Gen 3), they invited evil to enter into the world. And with that, sin and a sin nature entered the world and every single person has that sin nature since birth. That sin causes bad things to happen. These are things like physical disabilities and illness that occur in our lives. Also natural disasters such as wildfires and earthquakes that might damage our physical property or hurt us. These are all examples of the Fall and evil effecting us today.
Because of the role of Satan in our world, bad things happen.
Satan’s position is “god” of this world. In 2 Corinthians 4:3–4 we learn, “If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God” (NLT). And in 1 John 5:19, “We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [Satan].”
Satan’s activities in this world are to tempt and seduce us (Gen 3:1-6; Matt 4:1-11), and to destroy us (1 Peter 5:8-9; Luke 8:12; Rev 12:13-17). He also wants to war against believers and the church by sending false workers (Matt 13:36-39), by thwarting God’s work (1 Thess 2:18), by sending pain and physical ailments upon believer’s lives (John 2:4-7; 2 Cor 12:7-10), through defamation and slander (Rev 20:10), and persecution, oppression, and martyrdom (Rev 2:10, 13).
Because of the mistakes others make, bad things happen.
This is the context of Israel in Malachi. There was a righteous group of believers that have been faithful to God, but most of the nation had not been faithful to God. Most of the nation, as Malachi documented throughout the book, have been disobedient to God. Poor sacrifices (1:6-14), disobedient priests (2:1-9), divorce (2:10-16), and withholding their tithes to God (3:7-12) were among the many mistakes of the nation of Judah and has caused the problems they are in.
So the group of faithful believers here are experiencing problems that they did not cause. These faithful believers are enduring pain and suffering because of the ungodly actions of others. And that is true in our day sometimes too. Bankruptcy, health problems, broken marriages, and loss of jobs sometimes occur because of the ungodly behavior of other people close to us.
Because of the mistakes we make, bad things happen.
Sometimes bad things happen because we have played a part in it. Something we have done, or failed to do, causes evil to happen. Sometimes it is not intentional and sometimes it is accidental.
Sometimes there are things that we have done to bring about the problems we have. At first glance we might not even realize it, but often, sometimes years later after we mature and age we learn how we could have done things differently.
WHAT SHOULD WE DO WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO US OR TO THOSE WE CARE ABOUT?
As I mentioned earlier there was a small group of people that were faithfully following God that are described briefly in the book of Malachi. The attention of the author shifts to them in Malachi 3:16. Here are four practical things we learn from these believers that will help us overcome evil in this world.
Fear the Lord
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord gave attention and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem his name. . . “But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 3:16; 4:2)
First, we need to examine our attitude toward God. We should have a respectful fear of God. He created the universe, he knew us before we were born, he sent his son to die for us, and he chose us to be part of his spiritual family. And because of that we have a relationship with him. That knowledge should all lead to a fear and reverence of him. When it says “those who feared the Lord” the word for “fear” there means “revere” or “to give credit, to give him his proper due.”
We are recognized by God when we fear him and stay true to him. “And the Lord gave attention and heard it…” (Malachi 3:16) – God saw and remembered their faithfulness to him. God still listened to them, watched them, and focused on them even when he was punishing everyone else.
No matter what situation we might be in we need to remain steady and faithful to God. When we see other people lie, steal, cheat or manipulate their way to success, wealth, or fame, we need to stay honest and be people of integrity. We must remember that God sees our faithfulness despite what the “world” might say in claiming righteousness as weakness.
Because of this small remnant of faithful believers the text continues in verse 16. After it says the Lord gave his attention, in addition “…a book of remembrance was written before him for those who fear the Lord and who esteem his name.” In other words, God doesn’t forget, and won’t forget our love and devotion to him despite our circumstances. This “memory book” wasn’t just a memento, but a promise of God to be acted on – a permanent remembrance of the people’s faithful and reverent response kept in Heaven. Now of course, God does not need a scroll to remember who is loyal to him, but the writing on the scroll emphasizes for us the permanence of God’s intention to deliver his people in the future.
Grow in the Lord
“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.” (Malachi 4:4)
Second, we need to follow God’s direction. To grow in the Lord we need to read his Word to connect with and understand him more fully. Here “the law of Moses” describes the Torah that Moses wrote (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). But it also includes the rest of the Old Testament that had been written up to that point in time, in fact all thirty-eight books except for Malachi, which was the last of the thirty-nine books to be written of the Old Testament.
To grow in the Lord we need to listen to the Bible because it’s where God is speaking. Most people at the time of Malachi did not read. So to “remember” the Bible meant they had to hear it being read. That’s why most churches designate a specific part of their service to simply reading a passage of God’s scripture aloud, and why some churches display an open Bible in front of the room.
To grow in the Lord we need to not only hear what God says in the Bible, but do what he says in it too. Here again the word used again means “remember” but more than just “memory” (same word as in v. 16 mentioned earlier), it implies acting on what is remembered. So in this context they need to remember the Bible in order to do what is says. When I was a kid my mom would sometimes tell me dad, “Remember to pick up Brittany [my sister] from school today.” There were two elements to what my mom told my dad. Knowledge that it was his day to pick her up from school. Action that he needed to leave work to go get her at the appointed time. There was an action tied to that knowledge. Likewise our growth in knowledge of the Bible should lead to action.
Serve the Lord
“So you will again distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” (Malachi 3:18)
Third, we need to have a purpose in our spiritual life. Emotions are not enough; we need to apply our faith and what we know of God to what we say and how we interact with others. Just saying “I follow God and believe in God” is not enough. There needs to be love and intentionality to be of benefit to other people that match those declarations. That’s how God “distinguishes” us. God distinguishes between those that are “arrogant” and evil from the ones that “fear the Lord (v. 16) and “esteem his name” (v. 16) through their service of him and the people he loves. The New Living Translation says you will “see the difference.” In other words, it should not be a secret that we are followers of Jesus Christ. How we live and serve the Lord should distinguish us from others that are not people of faith.
Look for the Lord
“But for you who fear My name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings; and you will go forth and skip about like calves from the stall.” (Malachi 4:2)
Fourth, we need to examine our perspective. This reminds us that earth is not our permanent place. We have something better waiting for us that we anticipate. I know that when I have a vacation planned it helps me get through the tough stuff of life. Knowing there will be rest and relief in the future makes it easier to endure the battles I go through right know. That’s the same for us that endure suffering in this life. This verse gives us two ways to look for the Lord.
The text describes “the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its wings.” The people in Malachi’s time and in our time can sometimes feel like we are in a dark world where there is no hope. There is no end in sight to the world’s evil and wickedness. But when Christ returns to earth for his people it will be like the sun with its rays shooting out appearing as “wings.” Picture a dark cloudy day when the clouds break and you see some light shinning through as a strong straight line. Christ’s salvation and light illuminating the dark situations in the world give us hope.
The text describes also “and you will go forth and skip about like calves from a stall.” In other words, we will be free! We have a future hope to a day when God’s people will be spiritually renewed and restored completely when Christ returns.
Thankfully, Matthew and Ashley are still married, still committed to God, and still involved in a church. Their faith was strong enough to know that this world is not the way it was supposed to be. They were committed to God through the complicated problems of life just like the small group of believers highlighted in the book of Malachi.
As we go about our lives we need to remember that bad things do happen to godly people because of the Fall, because of Satan’s place in the world, and because of the actions of ourselves and others. Yet we need to remain committed to God because his faithfulness is better than anything we could remotely gain from straying. We can be confident that through a fear of God, growing in our faith in him, serving him regularly, and looking towards his return, our hearts and minds will be better equipped to face any storms and troubles that may come.